So close ... yet so far!

By Muhammad Nabeel
Fri, 12, 21

Two more favourable coin flips would have driven this Year Ender into a very joyous and simple path; the sweet path of victory...


Two more favourable coin flips would have driven this Year Ender into a very joyous and simple path; the sweet path of victory...

The pitches in UAE at this year’s T20 World Cup heavily favoured the team that batted second. Team Pakistan won the toss in all 5 group games but lost in the all-important semifinal clash with the eventual World Champions Australia.

Being the most important sporting event in the calendar year from Pakistan’s perspective, it is appropriate that this Year Ender starts with the account of the national team’s exploits in the World T20 held in UAE in the months of October and November.


So close ...  yet so far!

As has been the case throughout the last couple of decades, the Pakistan team usually has to play India in the group stages. This is not surprising if you ask me because a Pakistan-India encounter at any cricket event is a gold mine for the ICC and the organisers. Secondly, due to the dominance of the Indian cricket team over the last 12 to 15 years, every tournament gives them an opportunity to stamp their authority on their fiercest rivals who used to thrash them regularly till the late 90s. More importantly, due to India‘s perfect record against Pakistan at the World Cups, the former have a psychological edge at these events.

But what many people don’t realize is that the shorter the game the higher the element of uncertainty and the Pakistan Cricket Team thrives in such circumstances. This is our territory, well if you talk about UAE then for the major part of the last 10 years, it quite literally was our territory. So when the organisers had to move the tournament, originally planned to be staged in India, to UAE and Oman, it gave an advantage to an extent to team Pakistan.

However, since the IPL was also organised in the UAE just before the World Cup, players from all around the world got a chance to get accustomed to the local conditions. Pakistan players of course do not participate in the IPL due to the strained relationship between India and Pakistan.

The showpiece event of the T20 World Cup was the clash between Pakistan and India in Dubai on October 24. India’s perfect record against Pakistan in the World Cups meant they were strong favourites to turn their opponents over. The kind of confidence that the Indian fans and the media especially were showing in their team gave the impression that the match was just a formality; there was arrogance in their attitude. But they forgot that the higher you climb, the harder you fall.

So close ...  yet so far!

Babar Azam won the toss on the day and invited India to bat first, what followed is the stuff that dreams are made of. Shaheen Shah Afridi gave absolute nightmares to the Indian top order and their fans alike. Left-arm fast swinging into the right-hander at express pace full length, heading straight into the middle stump; Rohit Sharma is very familiar with this sight yet he had no clue and the umpire raised his finger to send the Indian opener back to the pavilion.

A Pakistan fast bowler in his pomp is a sight to behold and something that batsmen dread and hate to face. KL Rahul at the other end was watching all this, probably with his heart in his mouth. Standing at the center of the ground, thousands watching from the stands, there was no place for Rahul to hide from Afridi who looked like a man on a mission.

No delivery in cricket is unplayable but the one Shaheen bowled to Rahul was as close as it can get to fall in that category. Once again left-arm fast swinging into the right-handed Rahul, the ball hit the stumps beating the batsman with pace and swing. Nasser Hussain uttered these legendary lines “He’s on absolute fire they cannot play him...”, he later claimed that those 2 deliveries from Shaheen were the best he had seen bowled in a long time. The stadium erupted with the oohs and ohs of the massive Indian contingent who could not believe what they were witnessing. Pakistan fans on the other hand were absolutely ecstatic.

The Indian team and their fans could not recover from the devastating opening spell from Shaheen Afridi but somehow dragged themselves across the 150 runs mark. Knowing the Pakistan cricket team’s history of chasing targets it was still 50-50, but at the halfway mark when our noisy neighbours thought their misery was over, Babar and Rizwan came out to bat and almost toyed with the self-proclaimed best bowling lineup in the world. The night was not ending for India as runs kept on flowing from the bats of Babar and Rizwan. Pakistan cruised to the finish line never ever losing control of the game. A thumping 10 wicket victory, one for the ages was dished out to the hosts to shatter their confidence and dreams to make it to the last four.

So close ...  yet so far!

Next up were the Kiwis, one of the best all-format teams in world cricket. Pakistan won the toss again and put New Zealand into bat. The bowlers did their job once again restricting the New Zealand team to a chasable total. The top-order faltered this time and it was down to the veteran Shoaib Malik to anchor the inning and provide a platform for the hard-hitting Asif Ali. The latter took the Kiwi bowlers to the cleaners and clinched another victory for Pakistan.

The other 3 matches were against Afghanistan, Namibia, and Scotland, and thanks to some sensational performances from Asif Ali, Shoaib Malik, Rizwan, and others meant Pakistan ended the group on top 5 wins out of 5, the only unbeaten team in the tournament at the time. The other semifinalists from this group were New Zealand while India had to book an early flight home.

From the other group, England and Australia managed to qualify for the last four. South Africa and Sri Lanka also had a good run but were unfortunate to lose out on the final two berths. West Indies and Bangladesh were major disappointments at the World Cup.

In the semifinals, England who were favorites to win the tournament lost to New Zealand while Pakistan succumbed to Australia, a team who has always dashed Pakistan’s hopes in World Cup knockouts. Winning the toss at this World Cup meant half the battle won and luckily for Australia they won the toss in the semifinal and the final. New Zealand’s dream of becoming World Champions in Tests and T20Is at the same time was crushed as their neighbours lifted yet another World Title, their first in this format.

The other major international event in cricket this year was the final of the inaugural World Test Championship which was played between New Zealand and India from June 18-23. New Zealand were crowned the champions after they edged India by 8 wickets.

Also, in the final of the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League, Multan Sultan beat Peshawar Zalmi by 47 runs to claim their first-ever PSL title.


So close ...  yet so far!

Many events were cancelled due to the pandemic in 2020 and some major sporting events were pushed to 2021. The most notable of these events was the Tokyo Olympics that were originally planned to be staged last year but were organised in the summer of 2021.

More than 11000 athletes representing 206 countries took part in the mega event. The USA claimed the top spot cementing their dominance at the Olympics by winning 39 gold medals, China won 38.

So close ...  yet so far!

A total of 10 athletes from Pakistan participated representing the country in Tokyo. Najma Parveen was knocked out in the first round of the Women’s 200m sprint. Mahoor Shahzad, Badminton, lost both her Group Stage matches and failed to advance to the next round. Shah Hussain Shah was eliminated in the Round of 32 by Egypt’s Darwish in the Men’s 100kg category in Judo. Muhammad Khalil Akhtar, Ghulam Mustafa Bashir and Gulfam Joseph could not make it past the qualification round in Shooting. Muhammad Haseeb Tariq and Bisma Khan were also eliminated in the first round in Men’s 100m freestyle and Women’s 50m freestyle respectively in Swimming.

There were two notable performances from Pakistani athletes; Talha Talib came 5th in Men’s 67kg event in Weightlifting, narrowly missing out on medal positions. Finally, Arshad Nadeem, with his sensational performance in the qualifying round of the Men’s Javelin Throw event gave some hope to the nation. Unfortunately, however, his throw in the final round was not good enough for the podium and his dream of winning a medal for his country ended as Arshad came 5th in the final rankings.


So close ...  yet so far!

While there were four different Grand Slam winners in Women’s Tennis, Men’s Tennis was dominated by Novak Djokovic who won 3 out of the 4 Grand Slams in the 2021 Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon. At the US Open, he lost in the final to Daniil Medvedev in straight sets. Naomi Osaka won the Women’s singles title at the Australian Open, Barbora Krej íková won the French Open, Ashleigh Barty emerged victorious at Wimbledon while Emma Raducanu triumphed at the US Open.


So close ...  yet so far!

2021 was a very busy year for football. Due to the disruption caused by Covid last year, some major events were deferred to 2021 like the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship and the Copa América.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European Championship competition, the tournament was played in 11 different cities across Europe. The final was played on July 11 at Wembley the home of English Football. The match was evenly contested between England and Italy with the latter claiming victory thanks to the heroics of their goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in the penalty shootout. The Italian shot-stopper was later named the best player of the tournament.

The Copa América was hosted by Brazil from June 13 to July 10. Lionel Messi’s Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro to claim the title. Lionel Messi won the best player award. France won the 2021 UEFA Nations League final 2-1 against Spain, while Brazil claimed gold in football at the Summer Olympics. This year’s Ballon D’Or was awarded for the record seventh time to the Argentinian maestro Lionel Messi.

In club football also there was a lot of activity both on and off the pitch in 2021. Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi switched clubs during the summer. Ronaldo joined Manchester United from Juventus while Lionel Messi left Barcelona for PSG.

Chelsea, who hired the German coach Thomas Tuchel midway last season won the UEFA Champions League by beating Manchester City in the final. Villarreal defeated Manchester United in the final to win the UEFA Europa League title.

In England Pep Guardiola led Manchester City to yet another Premier League title, Manchester United came second. Bayern Munich claimed their 31st Bundesliga title in Germany, Internazionale won the 2020-21 Serie A, while Lille beat the mighty PSG to the Ligue 1 title in France. Atletico Madrid won their 11th La Liga, their first since 2013-14.

Other sports

So close ...  yet so far!

This year’s Formula 1 season is turning out to be one of the tightest seasons in recent memory. The season consists of 22 races and currently after 21 races Max Verstappen and defending champion Lewis Hamilton are tied at the top of the Drivers’ Championship with 369.5 points each. The last race of the season will be a winner-takes-all showdown, scheduled for December 12 at the Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi. Mercedes are in pole position to win the Constructors’ Championship.

In NBA, Wisconsin Milwaukee Bucks defeated Arizona Phoenix Suns 4–2 in the finals. In the 117th edition of the World Series (Major League Baseball), the best-of-seven playoff was played between the National League (NL) champion Atlanta Braves and the American League (AL) champion Houston Astros. The Braves won the series 4-2.